Students sue St. John’s University for vaccination mandate
A group of students from St. John’s University in New York are suing the Catholic school for its vaccination mandate, claiming the requirement violates their right to their religious beliefs.
The 17 plaintiffs say in their lawsuit they oppose abortion – and therefore do not want to take any of the three federally approved COVID-19 vaccines because the injections were tested using “fetal tissue aborted or derived from human embryonic stem cells “.
“As a devout Roman Catholic, I believe life is precious. In the Ten Commandments it is written, “Thou shalt not kill,” “complainant Kimberly Vineski, a sophomore pharmacy student from Glendale, LI, told The Post, referring to the abortion.
St. John’s has said in court documents that it will not consider exemptions for the plaintiffs because there are questions about “the authenticity of their alleged religious beliefs.”
Then there is the fact that the Catholic Church supports the vaccination mandate, which she says does not violate the teachings or dogma of the Church.
Yet it is clear that even the Church has struggled with vaccine testing.
In a guidance document released earlier this year, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops concluded that “neither Pfizer nor Moderna used an abortion-derived cell line in the development or production of the vaccine.
“However, such a cell line was used to test the effectiveness of the two vaccines,” acknowledged the group of bishops.
It is “wrong to create cell lines derived from abortion and have pharmaceutical companies use them” and “the use of vaccines produced with such cell lines should be avoided if comparable alternatives unrelated to abortion are available. », Wrote the bishops.
But “serious reasons (eg serious health risks) may justify the use of vaccines produced with these cell lines when there are no such alternatives,” they wrote.
“Although neither of the two vaccines is completely free from any use of cell lines derived from abortions, in both of these cases the use is far removed from the initial harm of abortion,” the newspaper said.
The paper did not address the currently available third shot, which is manufactured by Johnson & Johnson. But Reuters reported that the vaccine uses “lab-replicated fetal cells,” aka “fetal cell lines,” in its production process, although the vaccine itself does not contain any.
St. John’s campuses include locations in Manhattan, Queens, Staten Island, and Hauppauge, LI.
The students are seeking $ 2.75 million in damages, barring a change in the school’s position, according to their lawsuit filed in the Suffolk County State Supreme Court on Long Island.
Complainant James Callichio II, 40, a Navy veteran and Staten Island law student, told the Post: “I couldn’t believe that a Catholic university would deny my religious beliefs I fought for.
He said the university should take students’ relationship with God into account – not what senior clergy say – when determining potential waivers.
“The Pope is a man. The bishop is a man. They are not God, ”said the military vet.
“It’s between me and God,” he said of his opposition to the vaccine. “You don’t need a middleman to talk to God.
Matthew Margolefsky, 19, a sophomore business student from Syosset, LI, who is Jewish, is also a plaintiff in the case.
“The Torah teaches us that we are to ‘scrupulously guard your soul,’” said Margolefsky.
“I was very upset that I was rejected for an exemption,” he said, complaining that St. John’s did not have an appeal process. “It violates my beliefs to put this vaccine in my body. “
Still, other St. John’s students said the vaccination warrant had been a blessing.
“Life on campus is back to normal,” said Ethan Burrell, a 20-year-old junior who is chairman of the school’s student government. “The only thing different is that we wear masks.
“The vaccine mandate was necessary for life to return to normal. The pandemic has put an end to many activities. Students can now enjoy meeting other students.
But plaintiffs’ attorney, James Mermigis, said: “St. John’s University is trampling on the religious rights of students.
“It’s disgusting,” he said.
Mermigis added that St. John’s also raised eyebrows by recently honoring former student Frank D’Amelio, who is the chief financial officer and executive vice president of global sourcing for COVID-19 vaccine maker Pfizer.
D’Amelio, who graduated with a Masters of Commerce from St. John’s in 1983, delivered the St. John’s opening address to graduates in the spring.
Dozens of other lawsuits have been filed to overturn New York State and City vaccination warrants, including by health workers who raised similar religious objections to the vaccine.
Governor Kathy Hochul argued in court that the state was not obligated to grant a religious exemption to the vaccination mandate for healthcare workers.
St. John’s – the second largest Catholic university in the country with 20,000 students – has banned students from attending classes in person without getting vaccinated or being granted an exemption.
The school says 98% of its students have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine to date.
The vaccination rate at the State University of New York, which has 64 campuses, has also reached 98% compliance, arguably making state colleges the safest places for students in their communities. .
St. John’s allows other exemptions from vaccines it deems legitimate.
According to court documents, 564 of his students requested medical or religious exemptions from the vaccination mandate for the fall semester, and 183 were granted.
But university officials have taken a tough stand in court with plaintiffs in the Suffolk County case.
In an affidavit filed in the case, SJU’s vice president of student affairs, Kathry Hutchinson, said many of the applications were flimsy and failed the odor test.
“In reviewing the applicants ‘claims and others, my colleagues and I noticed some recurring patterns that invalidated their claims or called into question the sincerity and credibility of the claimants’ claims,” Hutchinson said.
“Many requests were refused because the students seemed to have
submitted material purchased on the Internet or copied verbatim from online sources, which called into question the authenticity of their alleged religious beliefs.
Hutchinson said some plaintiffs were “particularly brazen in their attempt to abuse the religious exemption process” – including a student who submitted a request that included a form from a minister at Universal Life Church, a site Web offering “instant online ordination and clothing and accessories sales minister.”
The ULC website lists celebrities such as Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Sir Paul McCartney among its “Notable ULC Ministers.”
St. John’s won the first round, after a judge dismissed the plaintiffs’ request for an emergency injunction, meaning the warrant is still in effect. A decision on the merits of the case is a costly one.
“St. John’s University is confident that our COVID-19 vaccination requirement, announced last April, will withstand this legal challenge,” school spokesperson Brian Browne told The Post. “Courts have always upheld the student immunization requirements necessary to promote health and safety. “
“In St. John’s, we encourage all students and employees to get vaccinated for public health reasons and to adhere to our policies. The St. John’s family has come together throughout this ongoing pandemic and adherence to campus safety protocols, and a shared spirit of compliance and cooperation is evident.
“St. John’s will persist in our mutual commitment to campus health to overcome this pandemic. “
Asked about St. John’s relationship with senior Pfizer executive D’Amelio, Brown said, “There is no connection between our vaccine mandate and our alumni network.”